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It’s that time of year – The New Orleans festival season

29th March 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Freret Street Festival

And so it begins. The New Orleans festival season really gets a jump start on Saturday, April 2, 2016 with Uptown’s Freret Street Festival. It leads the way for an incredible month of music as it’s followed the next weekend by the French Quarter Festival. Then there’s a weekend free to catch one’s breath before the granddaddy of them all, the Jazz & Heritage Festival begins on Friday, April 22.

The Freret Street Fest is a free, one-day event held on its namesake street between Napoleon Avenue and Valmont Street. As one might assume, it boasts a neighborhood flavor and originated as a way to promote local businesses in the area.

This is the 13th Ward and it is most musically represented by the presence of the Caesar Brothers – drummer Rickey and keyboardist Norman. They are related by marriage to the Uptown rulers, the Neville family. Their aunt, vocalist Gaynielle Neville is the wife of vocalist/percussionist Cyril Neville. The Caesars also grew up in the ward, on Neville-heavy Valence Street a block away from Soniat Street where their group, the Caesar Brothers Funk Box will be performing at 12:04 pm on Saturday.

Many folks might remember the brothers’ early days as members of the Deff Generation. There used to be a little festival at the park on the corner of Magazine Street and Napoleon Avenue where the Deff Generation, which included Nevilles galore – Aaron Jr., Cyril Jr., Damion, Jason and Omari – would open up for the senior members of the family. The Caesars, naturally retain the funk and Mardi Gras Indian rhythms of their early musical environment.

The Soniat Stage is particularly strong on the funk and Indian traditions with the arrival of Cha Wa at 1:05 p.m. The group, which includes lead vocals by Irving “Honey” Banister, longtime spyboy with the Creole Wild West and Spyboy J’Wan Boudreaux, the grandson of the legendary Chief Monk Boudreaux, is celebrating the release of its debut album, Funk ‘N’ Feathers. Those two members plus veteran bass drummer Norwood “Geechie” Johnson give the ensemble creds in the Indian heritage. Some of the funky grooves are laid down by keyboardist Yoshitaka “Z2” Tsuiji who is most recognized with Kermit Ruffins’ Barbeque Swingers.

The over-loaded – in a good way – Soniat Stage closes with the always powerful Bonerama that blows it out with its trombone-heavy sound starting at 3:45 p.m.

New Orleans Connections

Many of the nationally renowned artists who come to New Orleans to perform often enjoy ties to local musicians. For instance the great, often explosive, pianist Cyrus Chestnut who performs on Thursday, March 31, at North Rampart Street’s Jazz & Heritage Foundation Center, has played with this city’s cream including trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. The musicians who make up Chestnut’s trio, drummer Chris Beck and bassist Eric Wheeler also have connections with our native musicians as well as an array of other notables in the jazz world. Beck has worked with New Orleans trumpet genius Nicholas Payton and saxophone legends David Murray and Oliver Lake. Wheeler’s resumé includes playing with trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis.

The arrival of Chestnut, considered one of the finest pianists in this generation of jazz artists, here continues the circle of sharing the music that is essential to its growth and vitality.

The performance of the Cyrus Chestnut Trio from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center, 1225 N. Rampart Street is free though tickets must be secured before the show. Presently none are available however it’s been noted that for past jazz shows presented at the venue, seats have always become available. It is suggested that you get there early.

Further Connections

When drummer Jason Marsalis left the heralded New Orleans jazz/Latin/Afro-Cuban band Los Hombres Calientes that he founded with trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and percussionist/vocalist Bill Summers, the nationally acclaimed, Cuban-born Horatio “El Negro” Hernandez filled the drum chair. Hernandez was onboard in 2002 when the group was nominated for its album Volume 3: New Congo Square. He’ll team up with Summers again on Saturday, April 2, at Snug Harbor for a gig billed as Horatio “El Negro” Hernandez/Bill Summers Ensemble that includes steel pan player John Wooten, pianist Sam Bruton and saxophonist Larry Panella – all coming in from the University of Southern Mississippi – and bassist Chris Severin.

‘Watch Him Work’ at the Prime Example

Saxophonist Clarence Johnson III brings a taste of his latest, fine CD, Watch Him Work, to the Prime Example on Thursday, March 31. An artist who is powerful playing straight-up and creative jazz, when he digs into the smooth jazz style he’s unique in giving it an edge. On the title cut, a Johnson original, the saxophonist attacks tunes with his very identifiable and individual tone while adding percussive pops. Johnson, by nature, is a very spiritual musician, a side of him that is most clearly demonstrated on another self-penned tune, the wonderful “Mama’s Prayer.” Leading a quintet at the Prime Example with keyboardist Dwight Fitch Jr. and bassist Donald Ramsey, the saxophonist promises to mix in originals from the disc with works from some of his favorites like saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. and keyboardist Bob James. Showtime at the North Broad Street venue is 8 p.m.

This article originally published in the March 28, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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